ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Aug. 27, 2015) -- Cadets from the Maryland National Guard Freestate ChalleNGe Academy (FCA) began a months-long renovation and beautification project at their barracks on APG South (Edgewood), Aug. 22.
FCA Class #45 cadets, staff and approximately 30 volunteers from the Maryland Army and Air National Guard - including MDNG Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Linda M. Singh - painted the building's interior walls and ceilings as part of a larger effort to gradually upgrade the building over several months.
The Freestate ChalleNGe Academy is a tuition-free program which offers at-risk adolescents, 16- to 18-years-old the opportunity to change their futures for the better by providing the skills, education and self-discipline needed to become responsible, productive citizens.
"[The renovation project is] a start to try to improve the building and give the cadets and staff a better environment to live, work and play," said FCA Director Charles Rose.
"Once we finish up the painting, we have a contract going out to preventive maintenance on all of our heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, new tiling, and new doors," Rose said. "We're trying to upgrade the entire facility."
Rose added that the building hasn't had a renovation or upgrade since 2007. It was the 143rd Ordnance Battalion barracks until 2011, and then became home to FCA in December 2012.
In addition to improving their living space, the project is an opportunity for the cadets to develop mentor-mentee relationships with volunteers, according to Charles Kohler, public affairs director for the Maryland Military Department, who volunteered to help with the project.
"This is a good way to help the kids," Kohler said. "Everybody should get out and give back."
The project was initiated by Singh after she toured the building with MDNG Brig. Gen. Annette M. Deener and Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas B. Beyard in April.
"When I walked through the building, I realized that…we needed to do something," Singh said. "I've done a number of community service days, so I basically said, 'we need to do a community service day and work, not only with the cadets, but to have our folks engage with them."
Singh serves as the 29th adjutant general of Maryland and is responsible for the daily operations of the Maryland Military Department. She and her family members painted alongside the cadets and other volunteers.
Additionally, Singh is in the process of becoming a mentor to an FCA female cadet.
"She has life experiences that these kids can learn from and can relate to," Rose said of Singh. "She is a big supporter of the program, and she loves being around the kids."
Singh said a number of cadets remarked that they'd never painted before and that she hopes the renovation project will help the cadets cultivate "an appreciation for what it takes to maintain [their] own place."
"They'll probably take pride in where it is they stay now, knowing that they actually took part in putting some paint on the walls and just making it a better place to be," said Sgt. 1st Class Deleashia Jordan, FCA military youth worker lead.
Cadet Christopher Cutter, 16, said he's never painted before, and that he was excited to take part in something that would improve his temporary home.
"This place looks a little run down, so it's a good idea just to clean it up a little bit," he said.
In addition to painting, the cadets landscaped the grounds and planted flowers Aug. 26. Rose said the project will require dedication, and he's looking forward to the outcome.
"It's going to be costly, it's going to take time, but this is the first step, and it's a giant step for us right now," he said.
For more information about the FCA, call 410-436-3331, or visit http://freestatemil.maryland.gov/.